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Liège-Bastogne-Liège’18: The PEZ Preview
Race Preview: There have been many memorable moments in 'La Doyenne' over the years, well, the Liège-Bastogne-Liège one-day Classic has been running since 1892. Sunday sees the WorldTour peloton hit the stiff Walloon climbs and Ed Hood has all the information you need to know from the Ardennes. The 2018 Liège PEZ Preview.


Hoogvliet - wielrennen - cyclisme - cycling - radsport - archief foto archive - stock - Ab Geldermans won precies 50 jaar geleden met voorsprong Luik - Bastenaken - Luik - foto Cor Vos ©1968
1960 Liège winner Albertus "Ab" Geldermans

Luik – Bastanaken – Luik they call it up in Flanders; Liège – Bastogne – Liège down in French speaking Wallonia – ‘La Doyenne’ is her Sunday name, afforded to the most senior and respected lady in the Monuments Salon.


War-torn Liège in 1914

Milan – San Remo is longer; Flanders has the ultimate bergs/cobbles combo; Paris – Roubaix is crazier and maxes-out on cobbles and Lombardy is more beautiful, but Liège is the oldest – first run as an amateur race in 1892 - and arguably, the toughest. The route does as it says on the tin; south out of Liege (main town of the province which bears that name) to Bastogne (rather confusingly situated in the Belgian province of Luxembourg) and back again to finish at a disappointing and drab retail park in the Liège suburb of Ans – which happens to be at the top of an endless drag past defunct factories, mine workers’ houses, shops and garages.


The nice bit of Ans - The Côte de la rue Naniot

The parcours have changed over the years but there are no early categorized climbs; the first major joust with gravity is the new ascent of Cote de Bonnerue which doesn’t come ‘til 70 kilometers in. The second is the Cote de Sant Roch with over 100 kilometers on the Garmins, with the final nine categorized climbs coming within 100K of the finish at 258K – that’s one around every 11 kilometers. This has the effect of making the tail end of the race profile look like an advert for high quality timber hand saws; if there’s a ‘flat bit’ on this course, then it's hiding somewhere in the 258 kilometers of lumps and bumps which make up the 104th edition of the last classic of the Spring season.




There are 11 classified climbs in all but little of the parcours is flat; and these are not ‘power’ climbs, they’re bona fide killers - take the legendary La Redoute.

Ans - Belgium- wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme -   Kanstantsin Siutsou (Team Sky) - Zdenek Stybar (Team Etixx - Quick Step) - Warren Barguil (Team Giant - Alpecin) - Rein Taaramae (Team Astana) on La Redoute climb  pictured during Liege - Bastogne - Liege 2015 (1.UWT)  - photo JB/VK/PN/Cor Vos © 2015
La Redoute

La Redoute used to be where the winner would make his move, 2.4K long and with a grade that varies constantly to thwart you finding a rhythm. But in these days of riders peaking for just one or two races each in a season and the difference in the top rider’s condition minimal, it’s no longer decisive albeit it’s still a great place to watch the race with huge crowds, giant screen TV, bars and barbecues. All told there’s more than 4,000 meters of climbing in the race – as much as a Grand Tour mountain stage.



‘Back in the day’ L-B-L used to run back to back with the Flèche Wallonne, the two races were known as the ‘Weekend Ardennais.’ Only the best riders of their respective generations have won both races in the same season; Ferdi Kubler (Switzerland) twice 1951 & 1952, Stan Ockers (Belgium) 1955, Eddy Merckx (Belgium) 1972, Moreno Argentin (Italy) 1991, Davide Rebellin (Italy) 2004, Philippe Gilbert 2011 and Alejandro Valverde thrice 2006, 2015 and 2017.

Hoogvliet - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - archief - archive - stock - Eddy Merckx - foto /Cor Vos ©2008
'Big Ted' won Liège in 1969, 1971, 1973, 1975 and as World champion in 1972

Unsurprisingly, ‘Big Ted’ – as we named Baron Merckx back then; is the ‘record man’ on five wins with the classy Argentin on four. But so is Alejandro Valverde who’s record in the race is exemplary with four wins, two second places and a third, making him the second most successful rider in history in this event. Merckx also holds the record for top 10 finishes, a feat he achieved on 10 occasions.

Liege - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Alejandro VALVERDE BELMONTE (Spain / Team Movistar) - Daniel MARTIN (Ireland / Team Quick Step - Floors) pictured during Liege - Bastogne - Liege 2017 - UCI Worldtour - foto VK/PN/Cor Vos ¨© 2017
Alejandro Valverde - Liège winner in 2006, 2008, 2015, 2017

The fact that five of the ‘doubles’ were completed in the last few years says much about the changes in pro cycling. Merckx would charge through the early season from Milan – San Remo (which he won seven times) to the Amstel - which closed the Classics season back then and which the Belgian won twice - without missing a beat. In this millennium, such a thing would be out of the question as riders specialize in cobbled, sprinters’ or Ardennes Classics – but very good to see the likes of Gilbert and GVA ‘crossing over’ and riding all of the big early races.

Ans - Belgium- wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Illustration picture of the peloton with Fans and Supporters in the climb of Saint-Roch in Houffalize pictured during Liege - Bastogne - Liege 2015 (1.UWT) - photo JB/VK/PN/Cor Vos © 2015
The climb of Saint Roch

And on the subject of riders, here’s our top picks, leaning heavily on last year’s best 10 and a couple of others who we think will have legs at the end of that excruciating grind to Ans.

Zarautz - Spain - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Julian ALAPHILIPPE (France / Team Quick - Step Floors) pictured during 58th Itzulia Basque Country stage 1 from Zarautz to Zarautz (162,1 KM) - photo Miwa iijima/Cor Vos © 2018
Julian Alaphilippe

Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors and France): A French winner of la Doyenne? You’d have to go all the way back to 1980 and Bernard Hinault for that one. But the little QuickStep Frenchman came close in 2015 with Valverde the only one to finish ahead of him; this year he was top 10 in The Amstel and nabbed two stage wins in the Pais Vasco – he can win it.

Movistar) pictured during 71st Tour de Romandie (2.UWT) stage 1 fr
Michael Albasini

Michael Albasini (Mitchelton-Scott and Switzerland): the way he sits on a bike isn’t the most stylish and it’s not been a great start to 2018 but he gets better when the going gets tough, he was top 10 in 2017 and he did show face in the Amstel. . .


Romain Bardet

Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale and France): was sixth in 2015 and 2017 but his form is better this year and we think he could well challenge Valverde’s superiority – he was second in Finisterre recently on parcours not suited to his waif-like build.

Bermeo - Spain - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Gorka IZAGUIRRE INSAUSTI (Spain / Team Bahrain - Merida) pictured during 58th Itzulia Basque Country stage 2 from Zarautz to Bermeo (167,4 KM) - photo Miwa iijima/Cor Vos © 2018
Ion Izagirre

Ion Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida and Spain): Third in the Pais Vasco and fourth in Paris-Nice – that’s not bad form but he just scraped into the top 20 in the Amstel. As an ex-Movistar and Euskaltel man there’s little he need to learn about going up hills and he was fifth here last season.

Valdeblore La Colmiane - France - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Roman KREUZIGER (CZE / Team Mitchelton - Scott)  pictured during Paris - Nice stage 7 from Nice to Valdeblore La Colmiane (175KM) - 10/03/2018 - photo Cor Vos © 2018
Roman Kreuziger

Roman Kreuziger (Mitchelton-Scott & Czech): second in The Amstel and looking sharp – and besides, he just looks so damn good on a bike.


Michal Kwiatkowski

Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky & Poland): He won Tirreno and on the Algarve but there seems to be something lacking for the Classics? It would be foolish to count him out however – he was third, last year, remember?

Valkenburg - Netherlands - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Daniel MARTIN (Ireland / UAE Team Emirates) pictured during the 53rd Amstel Gold Race (1.UWT) world tour a one day race between MaastRicht and Valkenburg in the Netherlands (260KM) - photo Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos © 2018
Dan Martin

Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates & Ireland – via Birmingham): won here in 2013 and was on the cusp of winning the following year when he went down on the last bend; he was second to Valverde last year. As with Kwiatkowski we’d like to have seen more from the slim Irishman with the Brummie accent – however we did catch sight briefly in the Amstel. But this is HIS race and he will show.

Liège - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport -  Aike VISBEEK (Netherlands / Sportdirector Team Sunweb) - Michael James MATTHEWS (Australia / Team Sunweb)  pictured during the 104th Tour de France 2017 - stage 2  - from Düsseldorf to Liège, 203.50 km - foto  Marketa Navratilova/Cor Vos © 2017
Michael Matthews with Sunweb DS Aike Visbeek

Michael Matthews (Sunweb & Australia): top 10 in the Primavera, ‘there and thereabouts; in E3 and Gent-Wevelgem, however we’d like to have seen more bling. . . But he was just off the podium last year and he is class.

Bermeo - Spain - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport -  Michael WOODS (Canada / Team EF Education First - Drapac P/B Cannondale) pictured during     58th Itzulia Basque Country stage 2 from Zarautz to Bermeo (167,4 KM) - photo Miwa iijima/Cor Vos © 2018
Michael Woods

Michael Woods (EF-Drapac & Canada): to the fore in The Amstel and top 10 here in 2017; the course is made for his climbing talents – a podium - maybe?

Valkenburg - Netherlands - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Roman KREUZIGER (CZE / Team Mitchelton - Scott) - Alejandro VALVERDE BELMONTE (Spain / Team Movistar) - Julian ALAPHILIPPE (France / Team Quick - Step Floors) - Greg VAN AVERMAET (Belgium / BMC Racing Team) pictured during the 53rd Amstel Gold Race (1.UWT) world tour a one day race between MaastRicht and Valkenburg in the Netherlands (260KM) - photo Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos © 2018
Alejandro Valverde mixing it with Kreuziger and Alaphilippe in Amstel

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar & Spain): has won here four times, been second twice and third once – that would be ‘enough said’ except he’s won nine races this year already which is more than most win in a whole career. He was fifth in the Amstel after working hard and will be extremely difficult to beat.


World champion Moreno Argentin took the win in 1987, also in 1985, 1986, 1991

# As with all of the Monuments PEZ will be bringing you the best in race reportage and photography – so don’t touch that dial, Dude! And beer of the day? Come on! Liege is Jupiler’s home town, guys! Live TV at steephill.tv. #

2017 Liège:






It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he's covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,600 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself - many years and kilograms ago - and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.

 


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